Bryanna Brown,a MBA graduate from Olin Business School, delivered her message to the Class of 2022 at Washington University in St. Louis during the Friday, May 20, Commencement ceremony on Francis Olympic Field.
Below are Brown’s prepared remarks to the graduates.
Members of the Washington University community, families, friends, distinguished guests and the Class of 2022 — good morning. My name is Bryanna Brown, and I am humbled to be the speaker representing graduate and professional students at this year’s Commencement. This is a moment my family tirelessly prayed for and I thank them for their never-ending support. During these last two years as an MBA candidate at Olin Business School, Professor Michael Wall always said, “Give your audience the BLUF,” or the Bottom Line Up Front, so: Congratulations Washington University in St. Louis Class of 2022! We did it! We are undeniably the most persistent class to come out of this university.
If you would allow me, I want to leave you with a few more words of wisdom.
Theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman said, “At the core of life is a hard purposefulness, a determination to live.”
Standing here today, graduates, I see that determination in each of you. Every single graduate here persevered through a global pandemic where uncertainty was ever present and an agile spirit was always needed. Some graduates, including myself and my classmates in the 2022 Olin MBA cohort, began and are finishing graduate school during a global pandemic.
While the pandemic has been a meteor colliding with our individual student experiences, there have been many other traumatic moments we have had to process.
We’ve reckoned with an unimaginable day on January 6, 2021; the senseless killings of numerous individuals, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; anti-Asian hate crimes across the country; most recently, the war in Ukraine, and just this week the murder of 10 innocent people in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.
Even as these events have occurred, I found during my time at WashU, I was able to think critically, be a person of action and take a stand with support from collaborative students, faculty and staff.
However, there is still work to be done to hold the systems and institutions we are a part of accountable to simply do better, but I can say that some moments, like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson becoming the first Black woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court during my time as an MBA candidate, will forever be a positive light.
Our time at WashU will be held near to my heart because I was determined to get here. I persisted through and found ways to get involved while making lifelong connections and marveled at how effortlessly my peers did the same. In the WashU community, you are given the opportunity to learn in a rigorous setting while calibrating your moral compass that you will use to navigate the rest of your life.
Pushing for more Black faculty members and faculty who identify as women and advocating for the needs of all graduate students were among the many matters I labored to change. My classmates and I were especially determined to enhance the experience of international students; to create curriculum materials where students from all backgrounds could see themselves represented; and to guarantee student mental health remains a priority for the university.
Now as our time at WashU comes to a close, I am thrilled to stand in front of you all today knowing you will fight alongside me to work toward a more just world. I have witnessed your commitment to action here and know this to be true.
Class of 2022, I leave you with a three-point charge: (1) operate from a spirit of reciprocity; (2) know that your actions are your calling card; and (3) go and leap, knowing you have a community at WashU.
First, we have all made an investment in our own futures through our education; but never forget the power of investing in others. WashU opened my eyes to limitless possibilities and opportunities. But the resources that are provided by an institution like WashU are not equitably distributed to all. This is a solvable problem we should all keep near to us as we graduate and move on to the next stage of our lives.
Second, “Create a name for yourself and then go to sleep.” While in Paris on our Global Immersion, my classmate Luis Granat shared this saying from Mexico with me. He explained that there is something powerful in doing your best work, being a dependable teammate and ending each day with no fears regarding your contributions. So go out in the world, make changes and set the example that others can look to for guidance.
Third, nothing is ever gained from playing small. Nikki Giovanni said, “I really don’t think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don’t mind the failure, but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try.” So go out and put it all on the line, because the education and experiences afforded to you while at WashU have more than prepared you to go after any goal you have in mind. Know that the classmates-turned-lifelong friends, professors-turned-mentors and staff-turned-trusted confidants will always be a part of your community.
In conclusion, there is no force greater than the actions of a collective community with a persistent spirit. I am committing to this three-point charge as I pass my tassel over my tam today and, graduates, I hope you will join me. Again, congratulations to the tenacious Class of 2022 and never swerve for you are the standard. Thank you!